We woke up at 3am for an early start of the Beckey Route.  However, after venturing out of our tent we quickly decided that a slightly later start might be wiser. It was shockingly frigid outside even though daytime temps were hovering in the 80s that weekend and just the day before we had been sweating bullets on SEWS, South Arete. We woke to our second alarm at 4:15am. The air temp had gone up a bit and we were confident the rock would be warm enough to handle once we arrived at the base of Liberty Bell. We departed from camp 300 feet below SEWS saddle with our harnesses giggling in the cool, comfortable air of early morning. Damien and I traversed high above the slabs on mostly snow (no crampons needed) below the lofty spires until we reached the infamous Concord-Liberty Bell gully. I recalled this gully being pretty rotten last time I had the pleasure of ascending it 4 years ago. We moved upward first on steep snow and then on dryish loose rock and gritty sand. Then up another steep snow slope. We were able to kick good steps and did not break out our axes. I wished the entire gully was full of snow so were could have avoided the crummy loose rock, but it wasn’t as wretched as I remembered from last time. Maybe I’ve gotten used to such conditions over the years. We ran into a team descending the gully on our way up. They had topped out at 3am from Liberty Crack. Turns out they  saw our headlamps when we first woke up and were confused as to who could be down in the basin so early/late!

We stashed our boots, poles and axes in a tree near the top of the notch and made our way over to the bottom of pitch 1. Getting to the pitch is a bit cruxy within itself. After moving around narrow ledges toward trees around the corner of Liberty Bell there is a very exposed 4th class traverse section on slabs to the start of the gully start of the Tunnel Pitch. When I climbed this route with Eric a few years back we had used the alternate finger crack start thus avoiding the exposed 4th class section. The moves weren’t difficult, it was just exposed.

I led the first pitch through the actual “tunnel” formed by chock stones. The pitch is easy to protect with cams. The most  intimidating section is when you find yourself just above the tunnel with legs on either side. Lots of playful movement and I somehow managed a knee jam (probably not necessary, but ulta fun). The pitch ends just to the right of the crux chimney by the tree.

Last time I climbed the Beckey Route I led the crux chimney pitch. To me it had been a rite of passage or sorts, so I wanted Damien to experience the pitch on lead.  The most difficult part of the chimney is tendency to get sucked too high into the chimney and getting your head stuck under the chockstones above. Stepping out onto the left ledge as soon as possible to critical. Damien was pretty psyched for the pitch and made astoundingly quick work of the crux moves! I was so proud of him! After easily moving off the ledge on big horns above the chimney he moved into the easier chimney system above and out of sight. I could hear the friction of his backpack though as he squeezed through. Backpacks are always an issue in chimneys!

Upon rejoining Damien at the top of Pitch 2 we had a short discussion about the chimney crux. The most difficult part for Damien was getting his leg on the left ledge. The move was awkward for him probably because of his height. For me I found the most difficult part to be reaching the jugs above the ledge (in the end I had resorted to some stemming variation followed by a pull-up/mantle). Personal attributes change how we view cruxes.

I put Damien on Belay for pitch 3 as well since I wanted to lead pitch 4. Pitch 3 requires the most route finding. The key is to follow features trending right until you reach Beckey’s fixed piton. Then make a sharp left onto the delicate finger traverse. Reaching very far left on this traverse will get you onto a more secure hold. Rope drag is a very real issue and unavoidable on this pitch and it is imperative to extend gear properly to avoid making it even worse.

From the top of the third pitch we moved the belay over some 3rd class terrain a few yards to a big platform just below the start of Pitch 4: the 5.7 face. This 10 foot,  blank and unprotected face is the original crux. Apparently Beckey ascended it by standing on his partner’s shoulders. I wanted to climb it because it’s a boulder problem in the middle of a mountain. There are decent ledges on the bottom so the lack of handholds isn’t an issue until those ledges end. The jug top hold is just out of reach of course. The best handholds available are not secure and include a mono-pocket with small thumb catch on the left and a barely useful small slopper n the right. The strategy I came up with was to grab these holds, smear hard, trust my feet and commit. The terrain after the slab is low fifth class to the summit. We were joined by the youngest team I’d ever run into into the alpine: two teenagers aged 17.  I wish I had started that young!

We hung out on the broad, spacious summit to enjoy the view for about 20 minutes. The sun wasn’t baking us yet (luckily we had the pleasure of climbing almost the entire route in the breezy shade) and we were in no big hurry. But we did eventually have to descend. Most people down-climb all of pitch 4 including the 5.7 slab. We opted to do the optional rappel. We down-climbed from the summit to descender’s left of the terrain/gear belay area just after the summit slabs and then turned left and down-climbed a few steps to a tree with slings. The key to this rappel is to not go straight down, Instead stay left and do not go directly down the face. You will end up on a small platform just around the corner from start of pitch 4.

From here we descended to the belay tree at the top of pitch 3 and then turned left moving down through the trees until our first chance to turn right. We walked onto a rock large rock ledge. There are chains on the wall here. We rapped down to a smaller ledge with chains (don’t miss them!) and made a final rappel to the notch. Make sure you direct yourself left on the final rappel or you will end up hoovering in space and not on the notch!

At the notch we gratefully removed our swollen, throbbing feet from the our tiny climbing shoes and savored the moment. A beautiful climb, on a glorious day in a spectacular setting! Plus, we were in the shade! Eventually we put on our boots and descended back to camp. The Beckey route was crowded and completely in the sun now. We had climbed it at just the right time!

Gear note: in addition to the standard Beckey Route rack (nut set, double cams  .4-3″) we found that a few mid-sized hexes proved to be very useful.

Damien has been climbing for nearly 10 years in the Cascades and somehow never got around to climbing the Liberty Bell Group. I am not sure how this happened, but this weekend we set out to remedy this situation by climbing 2 classics. The South Arete of SEWS was our first objective (the 2nd climb was the Becky Route on Liberty Bell). I climbed this route the summer of 2014 and have a trip report on it. My vision of climbing has changed since then and yearly conditions vary, so I feel that another write up is in order.

We left the Blue Lake TH at about 7:45am. There are big sections of snow on the lowest portion and after losing the boot track we decided to just push straight uphill and bypass all this lower, sweeping, annoying switchbacks. We linked up easily with the trail which was much more melted out about 250 feet up from the TH. Continuous snow began at the second clearing where the route turns away from the Blue Lake Trail and detours toward the Liberty Bell Group. There is a good bookpack from the steady steam of climbers heading into the basin. However, there are lots of creeks moving under the snow. Care should definitely be taken and there are hollow places where you can puncture through pretty deep. Damien and I cut off from the main track and set up camp in a flat area about 300 feet below the SEWS Saddle. We didn’t see much point to camping in the car like most people do. Then we re-joined the track and headed up the snow covered slope to the saddle.

The top of the saddle is melted out with plenty of space to prep for climbing.There were already a bunch of teams on the route. We knew the 5.6 moderate S Arete route is very popular and we were prepared to wait. Damien and I geared up and hung our shoes and poles in the trees out of reach from the goats. I wanted to lead the first pitch since I recalled it being kind of bouldery. The first pitch is the crux and has a move or two that is deemed to be much more difficult than the 5.6 it is rated. I’d have to agree. After some easy moves using a flake you have to step out onto the slab and smear hard on almost nothing while you hands are on awkward and insecure holds. Add the fact that the rock was sweating from the heat and no amount of chalk would help with friction made this section even more challenging. Once passed this part though climbing returned to mid-class 5. I belayed Damien up from the tree at the top of the pitch. There are also chains to the left if one prefers though those are really for rapping.

Damien led on pitch 2 which started in a blocky, low fifth class gully. At the end of the gully is a fun 5.4 chimney which can be awkward with a pack on. The top of the chimney is the end of pitch 2 and the start of easy climbing. Damien and I chose to Simaul-climb the remainder of the route. It is basically all class 3/4 with a few low class 5 moves sprinkled in here and there. Unfortunately the team of three in front of us pitched out nearly everything which slowed us down quite a lot. I think we might have made it to the summit an hour and a half earlier otherwise. Regardless, it was a great opportunity for us to practice efficiency and simaul-climbing skills. I remember that last time I did this route I was pretty disappointed due to all the low class climbing pitches, but this time I knew what to expect and was able to appreciate the climb as a fun, low-stress, warm up for the alpine rock season.

The summit block is a V0 slab boulder problem which delighted me as I didn’t recall that. Damien and I rested in the shade a bit as the day was growing grossly hot and increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually, we ventured back out into the sun for the descent. Since Damien led the simul-climb up, I led down. Basically to descend you reverse-route down-climbing until the top of Pitch 3. Then we did 3 rappels on trees or chains (all directly on the ascent route), back to to the saddle. Enroute another rappelling team recognized us from the summit of Mt Hood last year when we had climbed Leuthold! We had talked to them for some time, but I didn’t remember their faces. We were surprised they recognized us!

We plunge stepped easily back to camp to enjoy an evening beneath the spires.

Four years ago Eric and I climbed the NE Ridge of Black Peak. We had just started leading a few months prior and had about one year of climbing experience and little to no knowledge on simual-climbing. This taking on this route was probably not our best decision. We pitched out most of it which resulted in an extremely long day (over 20 pitches) and  lack of experience made us most slowly on top of that. We topped out on what I know know was the false summit just as the light was fading from the sky and began to pick our way down  the South Ridge via headlamp… eventually we ended up deciding to spend a very uncomfortable night in a 3x2x4 foot slot/cave formation. I’m sure now I would have had no problem descending the scramble route in the dark, but back then lack of experience resulted in my first unplanned bivy.

Four years have passed since then. I am a much more seasoned climber now and it was time to take on the NE Ridge again; this time doing it right and Damien had yet to climb the peak. With sun promised all weekend we departed the Maple Pass TH Saturday morning reveling at the novelty of walking on patches of melted out trail and wearing our summer mountaineering boots for the first time this year. The trail is mostly melted out until the first basin. Then it is mostly snow with small patches of dirt all the way to Maple Pass, then there is no more dirt. Crossing to the other side of Maple Pass and traversing the steep slope to Lewis Lake is tricky business. The run out id very consequential and an ice axe and possibly crampons (depending on snow softness) is a good idea. About 300 feet of elevation is lost traversing to Lewis Lake. From Lewis Lake we began to climb again following the tracks of Nick and Jonah. As it turned out on of the climbers we shared our wedding cake with, Nick, once again had the same objective! He and his partner were doing the NE Ridge in a day and were ahead of us leaving a nice bootpack through the rolling slopes to Wing Lake at 6900 feet. It’s a decently long trek, but the views were pretty amazing providing a good distraction.

We sent up camp on the shore of frozen Wing Lake. We saw two figured on the summit of Black Peak and thought they were Nick and Jonah. It turned out to be two skiers. Through my camera viewfinder I zoomed in and was surprisingly able to locate Nick and Jonah about 2/3 of the way up the NE Ridge. We watched them trucking a long for a bit before taking a nap.

Clouds began to move in that evening as we ate diner on a melted rock. We watched the summit for Nick and Jonah, but saw nothing. Chances were they were on their way down we figured. We scurried back into the tent as the temps dropped. Probably an our passed before we heard voices and peaked out of the tent to see two figures plunge stepping down the snow slopes from the South Ridge. We were relived they had made it down the mountain, especially since some unpredicted bad weather seemed to be moving and and even a few small snowflakes fell randomly from the sky. The summit of Black Peak was partly obscured by a cloud. We met up with Nick and Jonah swapping beta, stories and gear info. They had quite a long day on the NE Ridge which turned out to be more demanding than they had expected. But like us, they enjoy type 2 fun and a good adventure! Nick’s detailed account of the NE Ridge can be found on his eloquently written blog SPOKALPINE. Damien and I huddled back into the tent as Nick and Jonah began their journey back to the car.

The clouds that we figured were just passing through did not pass through… they lingered. They lingers and dropped rain. About an inch of rain fell overnight and it was still pitter pattering against the tent walls when we woke up at 2:45am to get ready to climb. We thought maybe it would pass as it was supposed to be a partly sunny day. So we waited 30 minutes… then another 30 minutes… we kept hoping it would stop. But it drizzled or rained moderately continuously and to top that off there was heavy mist providing only ten feet of visibility. There was one longish stint of no rain and we began to get ready. We figured if the rock was damp it would be fine as we’d climbed in light rain. Plus, if the weather kept improving and became partly sunny like it was supposed to the hardest parts of the route would be dry when we got to it… but then the rain fell again. We discussed going anyway and climbing through the rain at length, but in the end we decided it was too risky a move on an extremely long route with  no bail out option. At 7:30 we began to climb the steep snow slopes to the South Ridge, the 3rd and 4th class scramble route.

The route climbed the snow slopes left of Black Peak for about 1100 feet. There is varying steepness. We wore helmet and used ice axes for the last 150ish feet. Although the snow was pretty soft from the rain we still wore crampons approaching the ridge for extra security. Once we crested the ridge were blasted by a frigid wind and pelted with tiny droplets of freezing rain. Visibility had improved, but a heavy fog still hung thick in the air as we ascended the climbers trail uo the melted out lower section of the South Ridge. The trail was easy to follow, mostly class 2 and marked by carins. We passed over a few snow patches, but did not hit a major snow slope until about 8,500 feet just below the first gully. We used an ice axe and front pointed up the steep slope (probably 50 degrees) aiming for the Pillar guarding the right side of the gully. At the pillar we climbed into the shallow moat and once again followed dry rock up the gully until things opened up again. Then we took a very short 8 foot gully with 3rd class steps up to the top of the ridge. There are several “blocks” at the top of the ridge. We followed carins around the right side of the towers looking for the summit block. We found the summit block pretty easily, but finding the way up the rock was difficult. We had a few false starts before finally located a carin that guided us up a short snow slope. Then we circled nearly tot he back the summit block and finally located a hidden gully with 3rd and 4th class moves to the summit. There were no views of course, but that didn’t matter. Even in the srummy weather we had manged to make the best of things and still climb the peak even if it wasn’t the way we originally planned. The the rain and mist make the scramble route much more challenging and interesting.

We descended the route somehow taking a slightly different variation on the ridge down, but with no issues. The clouds never lifted and the rain never stopped as we packed up and began the long walk out. We made the right call.

 

After both of our volcano objectives got foiled due to inclement weather… the possibility of going out again to try Argonaut via the NE Couloir camp into play. To recap, in our first attempt (performed as a carryover) we climbed successfully to the top of the couloir, but were forced to retreat when a blast of unforecasted snow, wind and cold set in providing us with a nice dose of hypothermia. This attempt resulted in an unplanned bivy. The next attempt was foiled before we reached the couloir at 6600 feet due top extremely high wind and avalanche danger. We ended up deciding to try again. Eightmile Road was now open which took 8 miles off of the total trip and the couloir seemed to be in good shape as seem some recent pictures of it from nearby peaks. So off we went again to Leavenworth… and once again we began walking up the Stuart Lake Trail. At least this time the trail was snow free so it looked different.

We made fast progress at first. However, about .25 miles after Stuart Meadows we had to break away from the nice, clean, maintained track and duck into the3 dense forest. The rlute requires the traveler to cross the two branches of Mountaineers Creek and then follow the creek more or less to the base of Argonaut. Previously this has been a snow covered venture, and though we had to deal with some low hanging branches and logs, traveling cross cuntry was fairly easy. Without everything melted or with snow patches only a few inches deep, the tangled nature of the forest was completely revealed. We navigated over and under copious dead-fall, battled through dense shrubs and broke free of branches that tried to grab our packs. Luckily, crossing the roaring creeks was easy as we found descent logs. However, both required crawling as there were slippery. We finally made it to the lower slopes of Argonaut. Damien and I wanted to camp at about 5500 feet. Of course we couldn’t see if there was enough snow that high to build platform so we began to climb in the same area we had always began climbing up the mountain…

Terrain during times of snow and times of melt are extremely different. What was once a nice open snow slope with a few branches sticking out was now a thicket of slide alder from hell. We fought through the entwined, tangled mess of branches. There is no more heinous experience in the backcountry then going to war with alder. It stabs, slaps, grabs and punches you as you go. It also causes me to release a string of profanities and also irrational demands like “LET GO OF ME!”

We ended up accepting defeat. Damien seemed to recall that there was a talus slope further right so we battled ur way downward and right causing me to cuss some more until we finally found ourselves in a boulder field. At last we had a view of the mountain. There were plenty of snow fingers and patches for us to follow up the next morning, but none of the snow patches looked deep enough to create a platform at a higher elevation. We also took note of the bergschrund which was much more open than in early season. Normally we had bypassed it on the steep slopes on the left of it, but the slope had melted out to reveal steep slabs and waterfalls. Luckily, there seemed to be a snow bridge across and also a snow finger on the slabs, so we had options.As for camp, we decided that our best option was to set up our tent in the boulder field on a massive flat rock which had the added benefit of having a stream sunning beneath it. It took us 4 hours of bushwhacking to get to camp and travel 1.75 miles.

We began our upward progress at 3am the next morning. We aimed to stay on the snow as much as possible, but we had to travel a but on talus as well in-between. Almost immediately we had to put on crampons. The snow was solid. This was bit concerning. We knew the couloir t be relentlessly steep and with snow this firm it would be an insane calf burner. Still we pressed on into the morning alpine glow of sunrise until reaching the slabs near the bergschrund. Here we came to an impasse. The snow finger on the slabs to the right of the massive crack was really just a thin layer of snow and running under it was a small cascade. What appeared to be a bridge from a distance was actually an illusion. There was simply a “bump” in the snow that blocked the view of park of the bergschrund. We would not access the upper basin and thus we could no get to the couloir. Once again we were shut down, this time at 6300 feet.

Once again defeated by the mountain we returned to camp and took a long nap in preparation for our impending bushwhack battle with the forest. It took us 4 hours of acrobatics to fight our way back through the forest back to the trail which was a most welcome and beautiful sight after getting smashed smacked in the face with branches one to many times.

Once again Jimmy Chin was right “The best Alpinists are the ones with the worst memories” …. and thus I’m sure that is will not be my last trip report on this route.

 

 

09. June 2017 · Enter your password to view comments. · Categories: Trip Reports · Tags: , ,

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